Wild Man Fischer was as much a large personality as Beefheart, if not more. Twice institutionalised, once for attempting to stab his mother when he was a teenager, Fischer was a troubled man, a paranoid schizophrenic with an over active, constantly working mind in high speed overload. Singing his songs, mostly in a child-like shouting manner, Wild Man recounted the many experiences of his life in what could be best described as monotonous, repetitive rants, although they did have some charm about them. But Frank, totally fascinated by the man, was destined to get an album out of him. He did, and he named it ‘An Evening with Wild Man Fischer’.
Now long deleted, and not likely to see a re- release any time soon, the results of the album are at times surprisingly good, but this is definitely more to do with Frank’s input than any thing the Wild Man contributed. While Fischer’s monologues are undeniably interesting, it is in the Mothers backed tracks (complete with classic Frank guitar licks) that the album hits its highest moments and I suppose Wild Man’s eccentric ramblings can only entertain for so long. Still, there is something unique and engaging about his work.
Fischer was an obsessive Beatles fan and from thefirst time he heard them he wanted to be a pop star. In his mind, he was the next big thing and people were bound to snap up the record in their millions and Wild Man would finally be rich and famous beyond his wildest dreams. When he heard the finished LP however, he was disappointed with the results. It clearly sounded more like a sociological document of a specific type of person, a glimpse into an unusual mind, a study of sorts. As a result, Wild Man resented being “exploited” for Zappa’s perverse interests. Not only that, he was also disappointed to see it only sold 12,000 copies. It’s surprising it sold even that.
Famously, or perhaps infamously, Zappa fell out with Wild Man Fischer for good when the enraged and frustrated Larry threw a glass jar across the room, it missing baby Moon Unit by only a few inches. Zappa ordered him out of the house and Fischer was immediately cut out of Frank’s life. Feeling rejected, but not understanding why, Fischer spent the rest of his life hating Zappa and blaming him for his subsequent lack of a commercial, lucrative pop career.
But behind the slightly romanticized image of a musical outsider who achieved cult status is the harsh truth – a man with severe mental problems which slowly broke him down and tired him out for the whole of his life. Watch the brilliant Josh Rubin documentary “Derailroaded” which follows the latter day Larry in his everyday life, and one can see how exhausted the man had become by his own problems. Thankfully, after the documentary was shot, Larry was put on medication and sent to a facility where he was properly looked after. His life story and popularity, like that of Syd Barrett’s, is a perfect example of how cult fandom can trivialize a serious issue such as mental illness, all for the sake of “cool”. He died in 2011.
Here, actor and musician BILL MUMY discusses his adventures with Larry.
When did you first meet Wild Man Fischer?
Well, I had run into Larry on the Sunset Strip and at the beach and in various spots all over L.A. in the '60's and early 70's. He was well known here. But I wouldn't call those "meeting him". I remember being in a restaurant here back in '69 or '70 and my friend Scott was using the bathroom and Larry poked his head over the stall and said, "Do you know who I am?!"
How did you get involved working on his album?
Barnes and Barnes, Robert Haimer and I, had made it "big" on the Dr. Demento radio show and local "new wave" and "novelty music" scene, with our song and film, "Fish Heads". We became very familiar with Larry's second album, "Wildmania", on Rhino Records, which was the record label we were signed to. "My Name Is Larry" was getting a lot of airplay on Dr. Demento's show at the time, and it moved us both emotionally in a big way. We had been producing tracks for some of the other artists that Dr. Demento was playing and we passionately wanted to produce an album for Wild Man Fischer. But Larry never had a permanent address back then, he moved from funky hotel to funky hotel almost weekly. We tried to track him down through the record company, but we couldn't. Then one afternoon at Rhino Records outlet store in Westwood near UCLA, we literally ran into him in the store. We introduced ourselves and told him we were big fans of his music. He knew and liked "Fish Heads", and we started recording together that very afternoon. The first album we made with Larry, "Pronounced Normal", ended up with him being paranoid and spooked. The second album, "Nothing Scary", went better. I think they're both great, but I prefer "Nothing Scary". We also recorded several singles and odds and ends with Larry over the years.
Can you describe, somehow, the creative process of recording Larry in action?
Larry had many different moods and levels of "pep". Sometimes he would spontaneously combust with a newsong out of nowhere and it would be great. Sometimes he would sing something that he'd written years ago with great enthusiasm. Sometimes he would reluctantly approach the mic and read a lyric on paper without any energy. Many times Larry would have a ten or twenty second song and Robert and I would act like cheerleaders to get him to develop it further. Sometimes we would write an additional few verses based on things he'd say and if he approved them, he'd record them. Of times in the middle of a recording session, Larry would excuse himself to go to the bathroom, and sneak out and run away. He was a manic depressive paranoid schizophrenic. That can be a very volatile mixture. Larry could also focus and record "normally" when he wanted to. Many different artists we knew worked with Larry here in our studio, Lumania, while we produced him. Both Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell from "America" wrote songs for Larry's "Nothing Scary" album. Gerry recorded most the track for his song here with Larry. As a matter of fact, he and Dewey recorded that song, "All I Think About Is You", on their most recent America album.
Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo was a big supporter of Larry and recorded with him. The late great Rosemary Clooney was so moved by Larry's music, in particular a song from "Nothing Scary" called, "Oh God, Please Send Me A Kid", that she used to call Larry on Christmas Eve for several years and chat with him and sing him "White Christmas". Rosemary was the reason she and Larry recorded a duet together. She told me she wanted to cut a track with him and I tried to talk her out of it, but she insisted. "It will make Larry happy to record with me and I want him to feel happy! Write a song called "It's a Hard Business" and we'll record it." So, we did. We wrote it based on Larry's conversations with us and Rosemary approved it, we got a demo cassette tape to Larry, he rehearsed it, and then they both showed up here in Lumania Studios, and recorded the duet together in a very short time. It went really smoothly without anyone being uncomfortable. Rosemary's son, Miguel Ferrer, brought her to the session, and Robert and I picked up Larry on the Sunset Strip I think it was... The session was amazing! They were both really happy and it came out great. Lots of smiles and laughter that day. That's a classic
music moment for sure. Every time I hear that track I smile. I think we have bits of that session on video tape somewhere... that was really something. Man, I miss Rosemary and I miss Larry.
What is the craziest story you can recall from your time and adventures with Larry?
I have countless crazy stories about Larry. But the fact that he held a rusty pair of scissors pointed at my neck while I drove him from his downtown funky- scary skid row hotel to a park in N. Hollywood where we recorded in a tunnel because the natural reverb there was inspiring to him, was pretty crazy. I never thought Larry would hurt me and he never did, BUT... looking back on it, that was crazy of ME. All the work we did with Larry, which I'm very proud of, was before Robert or I had kids of our own. I don't think we would have ever worked with him if we'd been parents at the time. He was a large guy and too unpredictable and honestly, he was often very unclean and turbo odiferous. .
On Derailroaded I found it moving when you spoke of your fondness for him and that you gave him a while before you changed your phone number after he was calling you all night constantly. Did you get back in touch with him after this?
Yes. I booked Larry to perform a set of music onstage for New Year's Eve opening act for Miguel Ferrer's and my band, The Jenerators, at a club called "Rusty's" on the pier in Santa Monica. He was nervous, but it was great to get him up in front of a packed house and see him do his thing one more time. And I visited him a couple of times in the halfway house he was living in. He was medicated and pepless. I even visited him with my son Seth once when he was quite young. Maybe 7 or 8. I always brought Larry things like tape recorders, TV’s, radios, watches, tapes of music he liked and clothes. But it was a very depressing place and kind of scary.
What's your last memory of him?
My last memory of Larry is of a few minutes ago when I was quoting him in an email to Miguel Ferrer. The memory of Larry lives loudly within me and within Robert and my wife Eileen and everyone I know who knew him. His sayings; "Would you agree it's a hard business?!”, "But I Like you!", "Yeah well, don't blame me!", "I wish you'd believe me!", "I don't think you're trying to kill me, but I think you MIGHT know who is...". etc... we say them with affection all the time. I loved Larry. He was difficult to deal with, but deep down all he wanted was to be loved and to be acknowledged as an artist. I'm glad we put the energy and time into recording so much of his music. Now it's preserved forever. We never really made any money from our work with Larry, and believe me, there were times when it was quite difficult and crazy, but it was worth it.
Finally, how do you think his legacy stands in the canon of music history?
Wild Man Fischer was a one of a kind. A unique talent. He was, to me and many others, a genuine, soulful, great artist. He managed to take both the deepest emotions and the most mundane things and package them within simple but original melodies that stick with you and make them resonate on multiple levels. His sense of time was amazing. His pitch was consistent. He moved me deeply. I truly believe anyone who takes the time to really listen to Larry's work will be hooked.
To read more about my writing on Fischer, read the HOUND DAAWG MUSIC MAGAZINE, published a few years ago and available here: